Thursday, December 29, 2011


With the New Year soon approaching, I wanted to share a poem I wrote a few years ago that sums up how I feel at the end of every year.  I'm not going to go on and on telling you what the poem is about, so I'm just going to let you read it.

Happy New Year!
Let old acquaintance be forgot
In fact, let it vanish from the minds

As we make our resolutions…
And then break our resolutions,
We celebrate the men with dreams,
And inaugurate the elected (not selected),

After Phil sees a shadow,
Past leaders become a sales weekend,
Hearts become candies and cards,
We kiss the irish (and pinch the non-irish),

Hunt for the eggs and pay the government,
Embrace our mothers and remember the fallen,
Finish school and re-gift our fathers,

Watch the fireworks and complete the vacation,
Celebrate labor (by not laboring) and go back to school,
Become patriots and trick for the treat,

Elect the leaders and remember more soldiers,
Consume the turkey and purchase the gifts,
(Light the menorah, if applicable)
Decorate the tree and visit family,

Then think back on the past year,
Then drink the champagne,
Then kiss at the stroke of 12,
Then make our resolutions and…

Happy New Year!
Let old acquaintance be forgot
And so on…And so on…And so on…


Friday, December 23, 2011

10 FAVORITES (48) - 2011: A Year In Review

Well everyone, Christmastime is upon us and we are almost at the end of 2011.  But what were the most important events that occurred in our culture over the last year?  This week's 10 FAVORITES is a special 2011 review, picking the 10 moments that shaped the entertainment and pop culture world over the last 364 days (give or take a few!).


The Deaths of Bin-Laden, Gaddafi, Kim Jong-Il and the Resignation of Mubarak
The Middle Eastern region was given quite an uproar over the last year.  First, Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak resigned in disgrace after over two weeks of riots and demonstrations against his questionable leadership.  Then, after years of hunting him down, President Barack Obama announced at the end of May that justice has been served as a US Seal team had found and assassinated Al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama Bin-Laden.  After a long summer, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was killed by rebels after NATO took down his forces.  And if all that wasn't enough, recently from the Far East, North Korea revealed that their "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-Il had passed away (from unknown causes!).  Could it be that these once troubled nations will live in peace with the rest of the world?  Or are they in a deeper abyss of despair than they once were?  Only time shall tell.

Charlie Sheen's Meltdown
Talk about a method to leave a hit network show!  Former Two and a Half Men star Charlie Sheen seemed to be on a downward spiral since his very public arrest last year at Christmastime.  But halfway through his firing from the CBS ratings bonanza, he informed us all that he is not like us.  No, he has "tiger-blood" and "adonis DNA," so you cannot apply the same rules to him as you do us mere mortals.  By all accounts (according to Sheeen!), he is clearly "Winning!"  And with those statements, the Charlie Sheen meltdown was off and running.  He, of course, tried to use it to his advantage by launching a critically panned lecture tour and signing on for a new "sitcom" with a cable network (where apparently he doesn't have the "creative" restraints that a broadcast network has!).  If this is "Winning!" Mr. Sheen, then, by all means, have at it.

William and Kate Make It Official
30 years after his parents had their lavish and hard-to-compete-with Royal wedding, Prince William married his longtime girlfriend Kate Middleton.  With this marriage, they are now officially referred to as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  The wedding was watched in almost every country by millions upon millions, and in this 24/7 Internet age the wedding was watched over and over again.  Now, almost 8 months after the wedding, the rumors are flying (marriage in trouble, Kate's baby bump, etc.).  But despite all this, the couple seem happy in their new life together.  Let us hope they can weather the storm that is the media hype and the "Royal fishbowl" together in health and happiness.

Oprah's Farewell
After 25 years of laughs, tears, screams, celebrities, favorite things and A-ha moments, talk show queen Oprah Winfrey aired the final episode of her show at the end of May.  There was a lot of build up to that final hour.  The two days before were devoted to a "Surprise Spectacular" that was held for Ms. Winfrey at Chicago's United Center where every celebrity from Tom Hanks to Will Smith to Madonna to Beyonce to Aretha Franklin paid homage to the woman that has shaped our culture for the last quarter of a century.  On the final day, there was just a chair and Ms. Winfrey speaking to her audience (both in studio and not) about what this journey has meant to her.  She did not say "Goodbye," but she did say "Until we meet again."  And, of course, with her new network OWN, we shall be seeing her again.  But thanks to her daily talk show, our culture was never the same.

Harry Potter Casts His Final Spell
7 books plus 8 movies equals a pop culture phenomenon.  J. K. Rowling's sprawling fantasy series about the boy wizard with a lightning scar has been read by billions.  Her last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was wisely turned into two movies by Warner Brothers (the company that had been producing the other 6 films!).  Part I premiered in November of last year and Part II became one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the last decade.  On July 15, the world watched as the cast (which has been mostly the same since the first film!) played their parts for the eighth and final time.  The movie was a box office smash making almost $400 million in the U.S. and triple that worldwide (cementing the Harry Potter film series as the highest grossing film franchise of all-time!).  The reviews for the film were among the best any of the others within the series.  And thanks to DVD (and countless TV airings), the series shall live on forever.

Kim Kardashian Weds (and Divorces!)
There are just no words people!  This is our culture these days!  And I blame all of you.  Just so you know.

FALL TV 2011
All the Single Ladies!
The ladies certainly made good this Fall TV season.  Several of the new shows centered around women (mostly single!) and each of them had varying degrees of success (and others just flopped!).  FOX sitcom New Girl starring the charming Zooey Deschanel became the surefire hit of the new season garnering praise for its star and its style.  The show received top nominations at the Golden Globes (for Best Comedy Series and Best Actress for Ms. Deschanel).  Other female-centric sitcoms that hit it big were NBC's Up All Night (starring Christina Applegate and SNL alum Maya Rudolph), ABC's Suburgatory, and CBS' 2 Broke Girls (co-created by comedienne Whitney Cummings, whose other sitcom NBC's Whitney received renewal!).  Then there are the female-lead dramas.  The biggest ratings hits were CBS' Unforgettable (starring Without a Trace's Poppy Montgomery) and ABC's Revenge (featuring a deliciously wicked Madeleine Stowe), the latter garnered a Golden Globe nod for Lead Actress (Ms. Stowe).  Other dramas included ABC's Sunday package (alongside their outgoing hit Desperate Housewives!): the fantasy-themed Once Upon a Time and the 60's era stewardess tale Pan Am.  And the CW had a string of female-lead dramas (The Ringer, Hart of Dixie and The Secret Circle), all of which received renewal from the 5th place network.  As for ABC's reboot of Charlie's Angels and NBC's 60's era The Playboy Club (each female-lead!), the axe fell pretty quickly when the ratings were not high.  And unfortunately, NBC also cancelled the high quality American reboot of Prime Suspect, which featured a powerful and nuanced performance from star Maria Bello.  This Fall certainly was all about the Ladies!

The Muppets Make a Comeback
I have said so much about my love for The Muppets.  And this Thanksgiving, I got the wish I had been wishing for for over a decade.  A brand new theatrically-released Muppet movie (simply titled: The Muppets).  The movie was such a nostalgic throwback for me, yet still had enough modern sensibility that it could thrill children today.  All of my favorites were there: from Kermit the Frog to Miss Piggy to Fozzie Bear to The Great Gonzo to The Electric Mayhem!  And each character had their moment to shine.  There were certainly moments when my eyes welled with tears (remembering the happiness with which these colorful characters filled my childhood).  And there, of course, were moments where I laughed so hard that I could cry.  The Muppets are back and I hope it won't be too long before I see them again!

Political Pundits Remain Flummoxed
After a few months of debates between the high-profile Republican party Presidential candidates for next year's election, there still is no clear front-runner as far as the major media outlets are concerned.  Some say that former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich leads in the polls.  A lot of the Republican experts still favor former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  And many of the Republicans I know personally have claimed they will vote for Ron Paul.  And with the dropping out of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and the scandal that forced Herman Cain to suspend his seemingly successful campaign, many Conservatives are concerned they will not find someone who can take on President Obama in the 2012 General Election.  In the next coming months, as we have more debates and several states begin their important primaries, we shall see which one of these people shall emerge as the GOP's candidate for President.

Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Falk, Amy Winehouse, Andy Rooney & Steve Jobs
We lost a lot of great people in 2011.  Among the most notable included 60 Minutes icon Andy Rooney, troubled pop singer Amy Winehouse, TV's Columbo Peter Falk, Apple founding "genius" Steve Jobs and Hollywood's ever-glamorous leading lady Elizabeth Taylor.  They live on for us through their contributions and their impact on the culture.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

10 FAVORITES (47): A 5, 6, 7, 8!

Broadway has been filled with toe-tapping, jazz hand-waving, high-kicking musicals.  Dancing has been a part of Musical Theatre since Day One.  Yet over the course of the previous century, the importance the choreographer played in the creation of a musical changed dramatically.  And there are several men and women responsible for that change.  Today's 10 FAVORITES will discuss the most influential choreographers of the Broadway stage, who they were and how the musicals they staged shaped the landscape of Musical Theatre.


Peter Gennaro
"Nobody's feet were faster than Peter Gennaro's" says Broadway legend Chita Rivera, who had a prominent featured role in the first musical Gennaro choreographed (a flop called Seventh Heaven in 1956).  A year later Rivera worked with Gennaro again in Jerome Robbins' new venture, a modern musical-ballet hybrid of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.  Gennaro was hired to be Robbins' lead assistant and co-choreographer.  He was integral in adding authentic Latin dances to several important numbers (namely the "Mambo" and "America").  After that, Gennaro enjoyed a flourishing career as a choreographer of Broadway (Fiorello!, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Annie) and Television (several 1960s variety shows and the Peter Gennaro Dancers!).  You can see the high energy and the fast nature of his choreography style in the 1964 film version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown starring Debbie Reynolds below.

Tommy Tune
Tommy Tune has more Tony Awards than any other choreographer (ironically, his total is 9!).  It also helps that he started as a dynamic performer for other choreographers like Gower Champion, Michael Kidd and Michael Bennett throughout the 1970s (two of his Tony Awards are as a performer!).  In the 1980s and early 1990s, Tune emerged as the most successful and the most innovative director-choreographer.  His musicals ranged from nostalgic-style hits (My One and Only, The Will Rogers Follies) to powerful evocative stories that helped shape the way musicals are created and performed (Nine, Grand Hotel).

Susan Stroman
One of the most popular choreographers of the last 20 years, Susan Stroman first came to prominence with her high-kicking choreography of the early 1990s nostalgic hit Crazy For You.  She followed that up by teaming with legendary director Harold Prince on the re-imagination of the classic Show Boat.  When she stepped out on her own as a director-choreographer, she revitalized Broadway.  First, she wowed critics twice in one year with a charming revival of The Music Man and her collaboration with the Lincoln Center Theatre on the game-changing musical-ballet hybrid Contact.  The following year, she teamed up with comedic icon Mel Brooks on his love-letter parody to Broadway: The Producers.  The show became the most lauded in Broadway history winning 12 Tony Awards (more than any other show!). 

Jack Cole
Of all the choreographers that shaped modern dancing to the way it is today, Jack Cole did it first.  He knew everything and utilized it in his work.  Jack Cole is considered (by many!) to be "the father of American jazz dancing."  Almost every dancer in the Golden Age of Broadway (from Carol Haney to Chita Rivera) worked for Jack Cole (Gwen Verdon was his assistant before she became a star on Broadway!).  Why is this master of American dance not closer to the top of the list?  Well while Cole was hugely influential to many of the dancers and choreographers who worked on Broadway after 1950, his most prominent work was in Hollywood.  Jack Cole worked on several movie musicals in the 1940s and 1950s.  If it starred the likes of Betty Grable or Jane Russell or Marilyn Monroe, Jack Cole was involved in that production.

Michael Kidd
When I think of Michael Kidd choreography, I think of a happy child skipping his way through a candy or toy store.  The key word there is "happiness."  Michael Kidd was a master at high energy and absolutely gleeful choreography.  Take a look at his work on shows like Finian's Rainbow, Where's Charley?, Lil' Abner or Destry Rides Again.  Even the times when he ventured into the seedier nature of human nature (like in Guys and Dolls or Can-Can), his dances still manage to be filled with some kind of happy feeling.  Like Jack Cole, Michael Kidd was lured out to Hollywood.  His most enduring contribution was the choreography of the 1954 classic Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.  For the delightful and acrobatic "Barn Dance" sequence alone, Michael Kidd goes down into choreographic history.

Agnes de Mille
During the Golden Age of Broadway, there were only a few choreographers who did both ballet and Broadway.  Agnes de Mille was one of them.  Her work helped change the American Musical altogether.  In Oklahoma!, de Mille inspired Oscar Hammerstein II to create the idea of the "Dream Ballet."  The ballet helped to show the inner emotions of the musical's leading characters through dance rather through song.  De Mille continued to use this concept in other shows like Carousel and Brigadoon.  It then became the driving concept of the shows in which she served as director as well (Allegro, Juno).  And her amazing American ballet Rodeo (set to Aaron Copeland's sumptuous music!) has been performed all over the world.  

Gower Champion
Like Tommy Tune, Gower Champion started as a famous dancer himself.  His work in many classic musical films (alongside his wife Marge) is extremely well documented.  In the 1960s, Champion became one of the top Broadway director-choreographers (with shows like Bye Bye Birdie, Carnival!, I Do! I Do! and the ever-popular Hello, Dolly!).  After suffering a series of flops (as most legends have) in the 1970s, Champion was on his way back to the top when he took on the task of staging David Merrick's stage production of the classic musical film 42nd Street.  It was a production that would have stressed and taxed anyone (even the likes of Jack Cole or Jerome Robbins!).  It has now gone into the theatrical lore as the most infamous opening night in Broadway history.  When 42nd Street opened to massive applause and rave reviews, producer David Merrick announced that Gower Champion, the man responsible for the brilliance the audience saw on that stage that night, was dead.

Michael Bennett
When it comes to Broadway choreographers, the conversation would not be complete without talking about Michael Bennett.  There is so much that Michael Bennett gave to Broadway.  Just Google "Turkey Lurkey Time" in Promises, Promises if you don't believe me.  He also helped the Stephen Sondheim-Harold Prince collaboration by working on their first two musicals together (Company and Follies, both of which have been acclaimed as Sondheim's best scores).  He innovated the way musicals were put together and the method of working a show throughout its run (especially on shows like Ballroom or Dreamgirls).  And the idea of the workshop didn't exist until Michael Bennett created A Chorus Line, quite honestly a musical that exists on every dancer's resume.

Bob Fosse
When it comes to style, there is no one like Bob Fosse.  Everybody knows a Fosse move when they see it.  Fosse, too, started as a performer.  When Jerome Robbins suggested him to George Abbott as a choreographer for The Pajama Game, a new career began its trajectory.  He followed his jazzy work in Pajama Game (see "Steam Heat") with dynamic dances in shows like Damn Yankees, Redhead and Sweet Charity (the latter two he served as director as well!).  All three starred his wife and muse, the glorious Gwen Verdon.  He soon branched out into films with the film version of Sweet Charity (starring Shirley MacLaine) and the film version of Cabaret (starring Liza Minnelli), which as become one of the most popular musical movies among college-age kids.  In 1973, Fosse won the Triple Crown for Entertainment directors winning an Oscar for directing Cabaret, a Tony for directing and choreographing Pippin and an Emmy for directing Liza Minnelli's TV special Liza With a Z.  He followed that with work that has since made him a legend: the Broadway musical Chicago (again starring Verdon), the edgy semi-self-biographical film All That Jazz and the musical-ballet hybrid Dancin'.  While working on a revival of Sweet Charity, Fosse had a heart attack while walking with Gwen Verdon in a Washington D.C. park and died that evening.  His legacy lives on through his recognizable style.

Jerome Robbins
What can I say about Jerome Robbins that I haven't already said?  There truly is no choreographer like Robbins that left such an indelible mark on the stage.  To this day, all of the musicals that he worked on still bare his credit (as in "Original Production Directed and Choreographed by Jerome Robbins").  It didn't hhurt that Robbins had one of the fiercest Broadway lawyers in theatrical history, Ms. Floria Lasky.  From On the Town to The King and I or from Gypsy to Fiddler On the Roof, Jerome Robbins was a force to be reckoned with, no matter what show you remember.  And who could forget the masterpiece that is West Side Story?  As hated for his dictatorial metods (and even his personality!) as much as he is loved for his genius, Robbins was the master of the Broadway (and the Ballet!) world.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: Sports Vs. Ethics?

Is it just me or do athletes (and other sports legends) seem to get away with more when it comes to our society's "Moral Code" (that's assuming our culture has a "Moral Code")?  If you don't believe me, let's comb through a few examples in recent memory.  Most recently, Penn State Football coaching legend Joe Paterno was let go from his august position because he allegedly covered up the actions of his assistant Jerry Sandusky, who has been accused of sexually molesting several young boys.  After the decision was made public, several people felt that Paterno should not have been fired and that the Penn State Board of Directors made a huge mistake.  Now, I am not here to decide whether he should or should not have been fired (that is a school's decision) and I am not here to discuss whether he did anything illegal (that is for the law and the courts to hash out).  But, what I am wondering is why (for those people crying foul) Mr. Paterno is ethically "in the clear" when there are several pieces of evidence that point to his deceit and his partaking in a cover-up (something that over 35 years ago forced a U.S. President to resign from office).  It seems that Mr. Paterno's years of service to the world of College Football have bought him a kind of immunity when it comes to some people's version of morality.

If this were the only example in recent years, then I would consider this an anomaly and this article would be extremely short (or even non-existent!).  But the Penn State case is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to athletes seemingly getting special treatment from our culture.  Just look at Kobe Bryant or Ben Roethlisberger.  Both of them well-respected athletes who were accused of sexual assault.  But since both of their respective cases could not be proved, each athlete has since continued to gain fans and have seemingly flourished in their sports.  It seems that some sports fans are willing to overlook dangerous (and even violent) allegations because of their top sports skills.

And then there is the use of steroids in the sport of Baseball.  Several players (including Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa) have had their careers called into question because of their alleged use of enhancement drugs.  But, interestingly enough, most of the speculation and investigations came towards the end of their respective careers and after they had broken or sustained several high-profile Baseball records.  And let's not even get into the Tiger Woods story!

Now, I am sure I am overreaching.  You can point out to me that O. J. Simpson is in jail.  And yes, he is...but not for murder (technically).  He is in prison for armed robbery, assault and a kidnapping charge.  He has the possibility of parole in 6 years.  Now, that seems like a lot for armed robbery and assault (even for Nevada!), but I am sure Simpson's past "brushes" with the law were at least in the back of the minds of the jurors on his trial.  But that first Simpson trial always comes to mind when it comes to a sports celebrity "getting away with it."  It has been said by many that the jury in that notorious trial were not willing to put a celebrity like Simpson in prison for murders that he most likely (but could not be proven) did.

And, of course, you could point out that Pete Rose went to jail for his crimes.  But there are still debates to this day about his banishment from being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, even after he admitted his wrongdoings in his memoirs (though he didn't refer to them as "wrongdoings").  Once again, I am not complaining, I am just pointing out some interesting observations.

And maybe I am just pointlessly pontificating.  When it comes to Celebrities (and that includes Entertainers too!), the degree to which the culture will "forgive" their indiscretions can go either way.  They certainly walk that fine line between being atop the pedestal and being the social pariah.  And oftentimes (as my father has smartly pointed out!), some of these Celebrities get targeted because of their fame.  It can be a very polarizing issue and I am very interested to hear people's thoughts.  Is there a different kind of ethics when the culture is dealing with a sports star (or any kind of star!)?  Is there a line that no Celebrity should cross?  Or are ethics and morality too subjective for a culture to have a collective "code?"  Don't be shy, say what you feel (just no gratuitous language or inflammatory rhetoric!).